Football legends, singers, and poets came together Tuesday night to be honored for their work on behalf of military members and to pay tribute to those who serve, including 27 Medal of Honor recipients who attended the event in Washington, DC.
Denver broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, musician Stevie Nicks, poet Seema Reza and filmmaker Sebastian Junger were all honored at the USO Metropolitan Washington DC-Baltimore's 33rd Annual Awards Dinner.
Nicks was honored with the USO Metro Achievement Award. She started working with the USO-Metro after she got an invitation from them to visit soldiers at the then Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda National Naval Medical Center in Maryland while she was in town for a show. It was her day off but, “Something inside of me said, ‘go, this is important, go; take your day off and go to Walter Reed,’ and it then became such a part of my life.”
The legendary singer described how she would come into town and load up iPods with music and distribute them to wounded warriors. She would visit with them and then go shopping for blankets or a journal or items they would mention they wanted or she thought they needed. Nicks would bring her “little army of women” including her make-up artist, sister-in-law, assistant and her best friend and many times they stayed at the hospital until well after 2 a.m.
“The Army was very, very good about letting us stay…the Navy was a little bit more by the book,” she laughed. “But we would finagle and barter as much as we could for more time and it just became something that I just looked forward to so much. Talk about walking out of my world and walking into another world… and I love that world and I love all those kids.”
Manning received the USO Merit Award from celebrity Chef Robert Irvine and Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015. Manning participated in USO tours to Afghanistan and Kuwait 2 years ago. He was asked if there was a moment that stood out from his time spent with the troops.
“Just the interaction with the soldiers, seeing different military personal and of course all of them had some sort of connection to football and so, I think just the opportunity to bring a little bit of America to them is what they said was the best part about it, to brighten their day a little bit during stressful situations.”
Manning said the experience was “life changing” for him explaining, “I’m not just saying that, I really think all athletes should go on a USO tour at some point in their sports careers while they are playing because it really makes a positive impact, I believe, and has a positive impact on the military."
Sebastian Junger, award-winning journalist, author of the highly acclaimed book “War” and producer of the documentary trilogy “Restrepo,” “Korengal,” and “The Last Patrol,” received the Legacy of Hope Award for his work documenting the people behind the uniform and bringing the reality of war to the public.
Junger has covered Afghanistan since the 1990s and said, “Afghanistan is a country I really care about and once the United States got involved there, like a lot of Americans I didn’t realize what a tough fight it was. It was obviously very political like every war is, but lost in that important argument and conversation was the experience of the soldiers themselves, that kind of gets lost and that’s sort of where I wanted to focus is a non-political, more immersive look at what it means when we say we fight a war somewhere.”
Junger was honored to be recognized by the USO, though he had no prior experience working with the organization.
“The USO does such great work with soldiers and vets and to be recognized by them, it makes me feel like in addition to my work as a journalist it is also somehow become part of the conversation in the veteran community; that really makes me feel good. I think journalism can be useful in other ways than just imparting information and I feel like I’ve done that and this is one of the ways I can tell.”
Junger will continue his work with veterans and military personnel in the future and recently completed a piece for “Vanity Fair” on PTSD for their June 2015 issue.
Poet Seema Reza received the Colonel John Gioia Patriot Award for her work with wounded service members through workshops that help veterans express themselves in an artistic way. Each participant in the program works on a product—art, film, music or a written piece—while working within a group that supports one another. Reza began her work in military hospitals and recently brought the program to the USO Warrior and Family Care Centers at Fort Belvoir and Bethesda.
While the celebrities were a big hit with the crowd of 600 military members, USO supporters and military leadership, the real highlight of the evening was the presentation of 27 Medal of Honor recipients.
They were honored on stage by top military leaders including Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army and Adm. Jonathon Greenert, chief of naval operations. The recipients, who received their medals for action in World War II up through Iraq and Afghanistan, were lauded by the audience and celebrities with many expressing their appreciation to the men.
“What an honor it was to partner the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation to recognize our country’s Medal of Honor recipients and express our support for our nation’s military members, their families, the wounded, ill and injured and their caregivers” said Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore.
“To be in the same room with 27 Medal of Honor recipients, each of whom represents the service and sacrifice of all those have served our great nation was awe-inspiring. I know that they were truly moved by the overwhelming love and support felt inside the room, and all of us at USO-Metro are so honored to have helped bring together this incredible gathering of courageous Americans.”
— Sarah Blansett can be reached at Sarah.Blansett@military.com